Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys maximize final day of draft with trades to add picks, fill needs at RB, CB, DE

The last time the Dallas Cowboys went into the NFL Draft without a first-round pick 2009 and it proved to be an unmitigated disaster.

They traded their lone second-round pick during the draft and ended up with 12 picks. Only six made the roster that first year. By 2013 none were left.

Asked what he learned from 2009 as he headed into the 2019 NFL Draft, the first for the Cowboys since then without a No. 1 pick, owner Jerry Jones said tongue-in-cheek, “when you don’t have a first-round pick, you learn that you could not have a good draft.”

Vice president Stephen Jones, however, jumped in and said they learned not to be cute and try manufacture things that weren’t there.

“I think sometimes you come up and you feel like you are short on picks,” Stephen Jones said. “Probably one thing that we did learn from that draft is not to keep moving it further back to pick up picks. Just take good players. Don’t worry about trying to parlay a pick into three more picks, or four more picks later on in the draft. At the end of the day, the best picks are in the front of the draft. That’s what you need to do.”

And that’s precisely what the Cowboys did during the three-day draft that ended on Sunday.

After not having a pick on Thursday, thanks to a 2018 mid-season trade with Oakland Raiders for receiver Amari Cooper, they took Central Florida defensive tackle Trysten Hill and Penn State guard/center Connor McGovern in the second and third round on Friday.

They filled a huge need on Saturday by taking Memphis running back Tony Pollard with the first of their two fourth-round picks.

Then the Cowboys went to work to add more picks and value to the draft, resulting them turning a four-player final day into six, that included a bookend running back to Pollard with Ohio State’s Mike Weber in the seventh round, allowing them to play and manage starter Ezekiel Elliott now and in the future, per owner Jerry Jones.

Pollard was clearly the gem of the final day. He rushed for 552 yards and had 458 receiving yards last season with Memphis, showing his versatility as a runner and pass catcher. More importantly, he scores touchdowns.

Pollard had 25 touchdowns, including seven on kickoff returns, during his college career. He scored as a runner, receiver and a kick returner.

The Cowboys haven’t had a kickoff return for a touchdown since Felix Jones in 2008.

The Cowboys were looking to upgrade the running back position behind Elliott.

The Cowboys doubled up at running back with Weber in the seventh.

Pollard is more of a change of pace back who can be a gadget player that can be flexed out wide.

Weber is in the mold of the more traditional backup to Elliott. He has 4.47 speed and can also make plays in the passing game.

He had 455 carries into 2,676 yards (5.9 YPC) and 24 touchdowns while adding 54 receptions for 297 yards and a touchdown in three years at Ohio State.

As a result, the Cowboys believe there is room for all three on the roster, if they can overcome holdover Darius Jackson.

“From a standpoint of efficiency within a game as well as from managing our overall future, we need some good running back skill behind [Ezekiel Elliott],” Jerry Jones said. “That covers a lot of ground if you talk about what we’re doing with Zeke, but prudence tells you you need to manage this, and these guys let us manage Zeke in a manner of speaking. This Pollard gives us some juice from the running back position, and he gives us legitimate options that threaten defenses. The same thing is true with Weber. Weber, it just so happens that he is from Ohio State, but he can do some of the same things as Elliott. That was a goal coming into this draft; let’s wisely use Zeke now and in the future. Those two address that perfectly.”

The Cowboys entered the 2019 NFL Draft not only short of a first-round pick but short of picks in general.

They only had six picks with nothing in the first round and nothing in the sixth. After taking Pollard, they worked the phones to maximize value and add players

The Cowboys turned their final three picks into five picks.

They traded their second fourth-round pick, 136th overall, to the Bengals for picks 149 and 213.

The Cowboys then moved back again, trading pick 149 to the Raiders for picks 158 and 219, while keeping their own fifth and seventh-round picks at 165 and 241.

Stephen Jones said the trades came naturally.

“We made them while we were on the clock,” Stephen Jones said. “If you look at them, we didn’t make them before we were on the clock. We had some guys that came off the board right in front of us and things happen, and felt like what we were looking to get was worth risking. A lot of times when you make those trades at the end of the fifth, we have a handful of players that we would still be happy with if we lost two or three along the way. It made a lot of sense. You do those type of things and you end up picking up some good picks and it ends up well.”

At 158, the Cowboys filled a need at cornerback with Michael Jackson of Miami. He is 6-foot-1, 205 pounds and fits the mold of a long and physical cornerback that secondary coach Kris Richard likes.

He started in 26 games over the last two seasons, recording 85 tackles and four interceptions.

It is a position of need because cornerback Byron Jones is coming off hip surgery and won’t be ready until the start of the season. He is also in the final year of his contract as is cornerback Anthony Brown.

The Cowboys went back to Miami with the pick of defensive end Joe Jackson at 165. Jackson led the Hurricanes with 9 sacks in 2018.

Jackson is a physical presence who racked up 129 tackles, 35.5 tackles for a loss and 22.5 sacks in three seasons at Miami.

After coming into the draft looking for a safety, the Cowboys nabbed one 155 picks after they took Hill in the second round. with the selection ofTexas A&M’s Donovan Wilson in the sixth round, 213 overall.

It continues a recent trend by the Cowboys of targeting safeties late in the draft rather than investing an early pick on one.

Wilson is unlikely to compete with George Iloka, Jeff Heath or Kavon Frazier for the starting job at strong safety opposite Xavier Woods as a rookie.

The Cowboys went back to defense with their final pick, end Jalen Jelks of Oregon. The two-time All-Pac 12 performer had 15 career sacks and 29.5 tackles for losses in four seasons with the Ducks.

He completed a Cowboys draft that leaned heavily toward the defense with a defensive tackle, two defensive ends, a safety and cornerback to along with two running backs and an offensive guard.

Stephen Jones said the Cowboys were efficient in how they drafted and it fell in a good place for them.

“We addressed a lot of positions there in terms of some things that you look at on our roster and say we may be short on in an area or two,” Stephen Jones said. When you look at the runners and the safeties…You look at the cornerback, with Byron (Jones) having a little injury there, I truly believe Byron will be fine. He’ll be ready to go for the first game, but you never know about that. Certainly, Mike can go in and out in terms of what he can do playing in the slot and out.
“Obviously, we have the running back situation, and (Jalen) Jelks was a situation where you look at your board, and it’s another blinking light. You just say we’ve got some gut on the defensive line that you can never have enough guys. I just felt like at the end of the day, the draft fell in a good place for us.”
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Clarence E. Hill Jr. has covered the Dallas Cowboys as a beat writer/columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1997. That includes just two playoff wins, six coaches and countless controversies from the demise of the dynasty teams of the 1990s through the rollercoaster years of the Tony Romo era until Jason Garrett’s process Cowboys.